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Jesus’ Life of Prayer

by Jonathan Master • September 3, 2014 •

Yesterday, I had the privilege of addressing a chapel full of students on the subject of their spiritual lives.  The title which I was assigned was taken from an address given over 100 years ago by B.B. Warfield, “The Religious Life of Theological Students.”

There was hardly time to cover this thoroughly, but I decided to stress four aspects of Jesus’ own life which ought to serve as examples for us today.  I would like to address all four emphases at some point in future posts, but, from the feedback I received, it seems that the one which made the most significant early impression was the one on Jesus’ life of prayer.

Jesus was a man of prayer.  Regardless of how mysterious this is in light of our understanding of God’s Triune nature, it is nonetheless undeniable that Jesus spent much time praying to the Father.  We see this throughout his earthly ministry – from beginning to end.  Howard Marshall provides a helpful introduction to this theme when he writes, “…Jesus did everything that was normal for a Jew  and more…”[1]   In other words, the gospel writers take for granted that Jesus prayed several times a day, as was the Jewish custom.  That normal two- or three- times a day habit of prayer is a given.  Therefore, to quote Marshall again, “When prayer is mentioned by the Synoptic evangelists, it must be for special reasons, and we are entitled to ask in each case why.”[2]  What is highlighted in the gospels are the additional times, the moments and seasons that go beyond the normal religious observance which can no doubt be assumed.  In other words, Jesus was surely praying multiple times a day just as a matter of course.  But his life of prayer did not stop there.

His life of prayer was evident in the midst of his busiest times of ministry.  Luke 5:15 gives us a sense of how pressed he often was: “But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities.”  What is so remarkable about this time of busy-ness is the next verse, which tells us that, in the midst of the crowds pressing in against him, “But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”  Notice that Jesus did this not during times of relative calm in the ministry, but at times of great pressure.  Generally our most common excuse for prayerlessness is the fullness of our schedules.  But the example of Jesus leaves no room for this excuse.  His ministry activities were perfectly executed, exactly as the Father intended, always infallible; yet he withdrew from them in order to pray.

Jesus’ prayers contained all the same elements that he taught his disciples to include.  He explicitly gives thanks to the Father; he intercedes on behalf of himself – always bearing in mind the glory of the Father; and he prays for others – praying that they would be sustained in the midst of trials, that they would have boldness, that they would live in love and unity.

And as Jesus’ life and ministry drew to a close, and as the hour grew darkest, he continued to pray.  Once again, he prayed for others and for himself.  In Luke 22:41, in a time of deep need and despair, we read something similar to what we read during the busiest part of Jesus’ ministry: “And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed.” 

What excuses do you make for prayerlessness?  Is it too much to make regular prayer a habit?  Are you too busy, with family and friends, work and ministry?  Has life become dark, with only suffering and difficulty on the horizon?  Look to the example of Jesus.  And recognize that we can only follow his example with the grace and strength that he provides.  It is his life that we follow and his strength in which we rest.  His example in prayer – as in all things – matters a great deal.  “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”[3]

[1] I. Howard Marshall, “Jesus – Example and Teacher of Prayer in the Synoptic Gospels,” Into God’s Presence: Prayer in the New Testament, ed. Richard N. Longnecker (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 116.

[2] Ibid., 116.

[3] 1 John 2:5b-6.


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